Pentewan, Heligan and Mevagissey

From Pentewan, the route follows a footpath across the fields to join the cycle track near the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The walk follows this to Mevagissey then follows small lanes past the church to reach the harbour. The return route is along the South West Coast Path, passing Polstreath beach on the way back to Pentewan.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.3 miles/8.5 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Pentewan car park
  • Parking: Pentewan car park. Follow the B3273 from St Austell towards Mevagissey and turn left when you reach the sign for Pentewan (village only). The car park is on the right as you go around the bend just after the bridge. Satnav: PL266BX
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Lost Gardens of Heligan
  • Historic fishing port of Mevagissey
  • Sandy beach at Pentewan

Directions

  1. Turn left out of the car park and follow the lane over the bridge to a junction with the main road.

    Just after you cross the bridge you pass a sign on the right for the Pentewan Valley Trail.

    The Pentewan Valley Trail runs along the trackbed of an old railway. This was originally built as a horse-drawn tramway to transport china clay from St Austell to the new port at Pentewan which was completed in 1826. The line opened in 1829 and used gravity to transport the loaded wagons down the incline from St Austell and then horses to pull them along the flat section to Pentewan, and to return the empty wagons.

    In 1874, plans were made to upgrade the line to a railway with steam locomotives. Although the track strengthening had been implemented, shortly after this, a strategic decision was taken by Great Western Railway to direct its china clay traffic to Fowey. By 1877, the shipments were dwindling and by 1880 the operation became unprofitable. However a boom followed only two years later and the line continued until the First World War. The track was the same gauge as that used to service the trenches in France and both the track and locomotives were acquired by the War Department.

  2. Turn right at the junction and walk past the garage to the 40mph sign.

    The buildings behind the garage were originally a bone mill.

    Bone mills used the power from a waterwheel to crush animal bones and produce bonemeal. The bonemeal was primarily used as a fertiliser to release phosphorus into the soil, which is a vital mineral for healthy crops. In the 20th century, fertilisers based on phosphate minerals, which could be mined cheaply, made bone mills uneconomical. However, the known phosphate reserves are expected to run out within a few decades and so organic phosphorus sources such as animal bones, and even urine, may become increasingly important for farmers.

  3. Cross the road to the public footpath sign opposite and follow the track to a gate.

    At the start of spring, daffodils are sometimes on sale at the bottom of the track.

    Growing daffodils has been an important industry in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for over a century. When the Great Western Railway reached Cornwall, this provided a means to export perishable goods such as fresh flowers and fish which previously would not have survived the long journey by boat or horse and cart. Out of respect for the dead, coffins were transported by the railway for free. It was therefore not unheard of for coffins filled with daffodils to arrive in London from Cornwall.

  4. Go through the gate if open, or the pedestrian gate on the left of the gate, and follow the track around some bends to a pair of gateways.
  5. Go through the pedestrian gate on the right of the rightmost gateway. Follow the left hedge to reach a number of gateways.

    It may be an urban myth that Eskimos have a large number of words for "snow" but it's cast iron fact that there are at least this many words for "hill" in Cornish:

    • Meneth was often used to refer to Cornwall's higher peaks, or (outside of Cornwall) to mountains.
    • Tor was used for hills with rock outcrops protruding (and for the rock outcrops themselves)
    • Brea was used to refer to the most prominent hill in a district.
    • Ryn refers to a 'hill' in the sense of projecting ground, or a steep hill-side or slope.
    • Garth was used to refer to a long narrow hilltop.
    • Ambel refers to the side of a hill.
    • Mulvra refers to a round-topped hill.
    • Godolgh is a very small hill.
    • Bron means 'breast' as well as hill.
  6. Go through the rightmost gateway and follow the left hedge to a gateway in the hedge on the far side of the field.
  7. Go through the gateway and follow the track across the middle of the field to the gateway opposite.

    To the right, there are views up the Pentewan Valley towards St Austell, with the china clay workings in the distance. The St Austell River is fed by many small tributary streams which originally drained the Downs on which the china clay pits have been dug. It's not difficult to see how it became known as the White River, and the water still has a slight milky colour after heavy rainfall.

  8. Go through the gateway and follow along the track to the gateway in the opposite hedge.
  9. Go through the gateway and follow the track to a gateway in the corner of the field beside a public footpath sign.

    The heavy clay soils are quite acidic which inhibits plants' ability to take up nitrogen. Farmers therefore needed to increase the pH of the soil. Very few of the rocks in Cornwall are limestone, so this was imported together with coal during Victorian times and burned in lime kilns near the coast. Prior to this, sand from the beaches was used, as this contains fragments of seashells which also contain calcium carbonate.

  10. Go through the gateway and follow the right hedge a short distance to a stile.
  11. Cross the stile and bear left to follow the path alongside the wall until the path emerges in a clearing where a short path to the left leads to a stile.

    Areas of the valley have been invaded by feral Rhododendrons. Efforts are being made to clear these but you may see some springing up along the footpath.

    Due to their spectacular flowers, Rhododendrons have been popular ornamental plants for over two centuries and the species that we now call the Common Rhododendron was introduced in 1763. The plants thrive in the UK climate and were once native but were wiped out by the last Ice Age.

    Rhododendrons are so successful in Britain that they have become an invasive species, crowding out other flora in the Atlantic oak woodlands. They are able to spread very quickly both through suckering along the ground and by abundant seed production. Conservation organisations now classify the Rhododendron explosion as a severe problem and various strategies have been explored to attempt to stop the spread. So far, the most effective method seems to be injecting herbicide into individual plants which is both more precise and effective than blanket cutting or spraying.

  12. Cross the stile on the left and turn right onto the track. Follow it until it ends on the road.

    A chestnut tree overhangs the track; you may find some nuts there in Autumn.

    The chestnut tree originated in Sardinia and was introduced into Britain by the Romans who planted chestnut trees on their various campaigns to provide an easily stored and transported source of food for their troops.

  13. Cross the road to the bollard opposite and bear right down the path to reach a track at a signpost. The walk continues to the left (signposted Mevagissey), but The Lost Gardens of Heligan are a short distance to the right, should you wish to visit first. Continue towards Mevagissey to where the track crosses a wooden footbridge and emerges onto a larger track at a footpath sign.

    For the Lost Gardens, follow the track to the right to reach a junction, then turn left at the junction.

    The Heligan estate dates from the 13th Century and was bought by the Tremayne family in the sixteenth century. In the mid-18th Century, the gardens were created, and were extended over the decades so that by the First World War, 22 gardeners were employed. Sixteen of the gardeners perished in the war and the gardens fell into neglect. In the 1990s, a tiny room was discovered amongst the fallen masonry and undergrowth with the names of all who worked there under the motto "Don't come here to sleep or slumber", dated 1914. This inspired what The Times described as "The garden restoration of the century" and since the gardens re-opened, they have had over 5 million visitors.

  14. Turn right at the junction, signposted to Mevagissey, and follow the track until you reach a gate across the track at Cheesewarne, just before the track becomes a surfaced lane.

    Woodpeckers can sometimes be heard drumming on the trees in the valley.

    Green woodpeckers are the largest and most colourful of the woodpeckers native to Britain and have a distinctive laughing "yaffle" call. The two species of spotted woodpecker are smaller and usually noticed from the drumming sound they make on trees. All of the woodpeckers bore holes in trees in which they nest, but only the spotted woodpeckers drill into trees in search of food, spending most of their time perched on a tree. Conversely, green woodpeckers spend most of their time on the ground, hunting for ants. The ants nests are excavated using their strong beak and ants caught on the barbed end of their long tongue. In fact, their tongue is so long it needs to be curled around their skull to fit inside their head.

  15. Go through the gate and follow the surfaced lane ahead. Continue until the lane ends on the main road.

    The settlement of Cheesewarne dates from mediaeval times and was originally called chysorn, meaning something along the lines of "nook cottage" in Cornish. Over the centuries, the name became mangled so that by the time it was first recorded in 1588 it was spelt "Chisborne".

    A sacred spring beside the settlement was known as Brass Well due to the iron salts dissolved in the water, which formed a characteristic scum on the surface. This would have provided healing properties for sufferers of anaemia, which was common from poor diet and childbearing during mediaeval times. The well still exists but has been enclosed in a concrete tank.

  16. Cross the road to the small lane opposite marked unsuitable for HGVs. Follow the lane until it ends at a junction.

    A fishing village on the northern side of the cove was first recorded in 1313 as Porthhilly from the Cornish words porth and hyly, meaning "salt water harbour", although it is likely a settlement existed here for a long time. Artefacts such as arrows and axe heads found in the village and on display in the museum date back to the Bronze Age. Nearby there was a small religious community of Lamorick, centred around what is now St Peter's Church. In 1259, the church was dedicated to two Irish Saints - St Meva and St Issey (who also crops up in St Issey near Wadebridge). During the 15th Century, the two settlements became known collectively by the saints to whom the church had been dedicated: "Meva-ag-Issey" (where hag is the Cornish word for "and"). During the 17th Century, Porthhilly expanded and merged with the neighbouring hamlet of Lamorick resulting in the single town of Mevagissey.

  17. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane until it also ends at a junction.

    The church is thought to date from the 12th Century and in 1259 it was rededicated to St Peter. It was reworked in the 14th and 15th centuries and amongst other additions, the tower was added. By the 17th Century the upper tower was in a state of collapse. When the church was restored in the 1880s, two pinnacles from the ruined tower were found under the porch and these are now on the upper churchyard gate. The churchyard itself contains a number of sea-worn boulders which were used as grave markers in the 18th Century. Within the church are two piscinae from the early 14th century.

  18. Continue ahead past Admiral Cottage and follow the lane to a junction.

    The north arcade of the church is built with stone from Pentewan.

    The golden yellow elvan known as Pentewan Stone was used in many mediaeval churches as its fine grain allowed stone masons to carve it into intricate shapes without it crumbling. The earliest use found is an inscribed stone at St Cuby, Tregony which dates from the Dark Ages. In mediaeval times, the stone was obtained from where the volcanic dyke met the cliffs of Polrudden Cove. Later, quarries were opened up inland along the course of the dyke and these can be traced for nearly a kilometre to a large overgrown quarry behind the village. In 1985, when the church at St Austell was restored, blocks of Pentewan Stone were recovered from Polrudden beach for the work.

  19. Continue ahead, signposted to the Harbour and Museum, until you reach the War Memorial.

    Number 28 on the right, just before the car park, was originally a fish cellar. The building had a U-shaped plan surrounding a central, cobbled courtyard and the walls contain sockets made from Pentewan stone to support weighted beams used to press the oil from salted pilchards.

  20. At the memorial, take the second left to reach the harbour. Follow along the left side of the harbour to reach the museum.

    There was a quay at Mevagissey in mediaeval times, situated in the vicinity of the current East Quay and there is a record of its construction in 1470. This provided protection from the prevailing southwesterlies, but when a gale occasionally blew from the East, the harbour was exposed. In 1774, an Act of Parliament was passed for Megavissey to be developed as a port, and the current East and West Quays of the inner harbour were constructed at this time. The outer harbour was added just over a century later, initially built in 1888 but only 3 years later it was badly damaged in a winter storm. By the end of the 19th Century, the outer walls had been rebuilt and have changed little since then.

  21. At the museum, double-back up the steep path on the left and follow this to a junction with a path at the top.

    Following the construction of the outer harbour in 1888, the lifeboat was moved to Mevagissey from Portmellon, and it was moored in the harbour for a few years until the lifeboat house was built in 1896. The station operated until 1930 when Fowey was equipped with a motorised lifeboat which could also cover the coast around Mevagissey. The lifeboat station is now an aquarium containing some fine specimens of local fish.

  22. Turn right onto the upper path and keep right along this up various flights of steps until you eventually emerge into a large grassy area via a gap in the wall below a public footpath sign.

    In mediaeval times, the village at Gorran Haven was the primary fishing village of the area, dwarfing Mevagissey, and the quay has been rebuilt a number of times throughout its history. The first recorded use of seining for pilchards in Cornwall was here, in the 13th Century. Once drift netting became popular in the late 18th century, Mevagissey took over as the primary fishery and the quay fell into ruin but was rebuilt in 1886 and a period of crab and lobster potting continued until the Second World War. After the war, crab and lobster potting resumed from the bigger harbour at Mevagissey.

  23. Walk straight ahead across the grass and, once you cross the brow of the hill, aim for the yellow hydrant sign in front of the rightmost house at the far side.
  24. Bear right onto the Coast Path and follow this a short distance to where a flight of steps descend to the right.

    Polstreath is a shingle beach facing east into Mevagissey Bay. The orientation of the beach means that it gets the morning sun and is sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds by high cliffs. The path to the beach is steep with just over 150 steps which has the effect of limiting the number of beachgoers.

  25. Keep left along the tarmac path and follow the coast path to a footbridge at the bottom of the valley.

    The names of many coastal features are derived from words in the Cornish language:

    • Pen - Headland (Cornish for "top" or "head")
    • Pol - often used to mean Harbour (literally "Pool")
    • Porth - Port but often used to mean Cove
    • Zawn - sea inlet (from the Cornish "sawan" meaning chasm)

    Note that Haven has Saxon origins (hæfen in Old English) which is why it tends to occur more in North East Cornwall (Millook, Crackington, Bude etc).

  26. Cross the bridge and follow the steps up the other side of the valley to a kissing gate at the top.
  27. Go through the gate and follow the path parallel to the right hedge to reach a stile.
  28. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach another stile.

    The point ahead is called Penare, from the Cornish word penn-ardh (pronounced "penarth") meaning promontory. Many of the headlands in the area such as Black Head and Dodman Point were also formerly known as Penare.

  29. Cross the stile and follow the path down the steps to reach a kissing gate. Go through the gate and follow the path alongside the fence on the right to reach another kissing gate in the far hedge.

    From the headland, there are views over Pentewan Bay to the headlands along the south coast: the large headlands closest are Black Head and Gribbin (with the daymark tower). On a clear day, Rame Head is visible at the far eastern end of Cornwall.

  30. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge of the field to reach a gate.
  31. Go through the gate and down the steps; then follow the right hedge to a gap in the wall.

    The derelict buildings at Portgiskey include cottages and fish cellars. Their exact age is not known, but they appear on a tithe map from 1840 and so were built some time before this. This was in the period when pilchards were plentiful, so the cellars were probably used to process these.

  32. Go through the gap and follow the right hedge to a kissing gate.
  33. Go through the sequence of gates and cross the footbridge to reach another gate.
  34. Go through the gate and turn right. Follow the path along the right hedge to reach a kissing gate at the top of the field.
  35. Go through the kissing gate and turn right. Follow the path until it emerges on the entrance road to Pentewan Sands Holiday Park.
  36. Cross the entrance road to the pavement opposite and follow this along the main road to the junction signposted to Pentewan Village. Turn right at the junction to return to the car park.

    Pentewan dates back to mediaeval times when it was mainly a fishing village with a harbour. The harbour was rebuilt in the 1820s both for the pilchard fishery and to create a china clay port. At its peak, a third of Cornwall's china clay was shipped from Pentewan. However the harbour had continual silting problems which meant that it was eventually overtaken by Charlestown and Par. As well as longshore drift carrying sand east across Mevagissey Bay, there was also silt being washed down the river from china clay works and tin streaming. Consequently, the harbour gradually silted up with the last trading ship leaving in 1940 and World War II literally sealing its fate. By the 1960s, the harbour was only accessible to small boats and today the harbour basin is entirely cut off from the sea.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa
  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is also useful.

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

A free way to not kill penguins: discarded ink cartridges float in rainwater, can wash into rivers, be broken up by the sea into reflective shards eaten by dopey fish, and build up in the stomachs of seabbirds, causing them to starve to death. Google "stinkyink" and click on "free recycling" for a freepost label.
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